Release type: Speech


Speech - Future Skills Organisation National Forum


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

I want to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their Elders past and present. 

I want to thank Future Skills CEO Patrick Kidd and Chair Yasmin Allen, for inviting me to address your national forum. 

The work of the Future Skills Organisation is pivotal. 

Digitisation and decarbonisation are two of the most significant challenges facing our economy. 

According to Jobs and Skills Australia’s Annual Jobs and Skills Report, occupations where people spend at least half their time using data and digital skills will grow at twice the rate of other occupations by 2028. 

And the impacts will be felt across the workforce – not just in technology-related jobs.

When we came to government in May 2022, we were faced with the most significant skills crisis in 50 years.

We have made inroads in meeting some of the challenges this crisis poses, but many of the challenges persist. 

We established JSA with a specific purpose. 

To work across governments, industry, and education and training sectors to provide independent data, analysis and insights to better understand current and future skills and labour shortages.

This approach will inform us on the best approach to deliver skills to a modern economy. 

Today is an opportunity to strengthen collaboration. 

JSA and JSCs provide a more formal basis for building links. 

Let me address some of the themes outlined in your initial workforce plan and provide an overview of the work we are doing around them.

The need for digital skills to be economy-wide and not confined to just the technology sector. 

Our government is committed to helping all Australians realise the benefits of the digital economy. 

We are pursuing this commitment through the new five-year National Skills Agreement. 

The agreement, between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments, will deliver huge investment in a national VET sector that provides high quality, responsive and accessible education and training to boost skills. 

It will unlock up to $30 billion for the VET sector over the next 5 years. 

The agreement will improve access to the sector, support training providers to deliver quality education and training, and implement reforms to address critical skills needs.

These priorities include enhancing Australia’s digital and technology capability through new reforms and optimising existing programs. 

Skills Ministers will be seeking advice from JSCs on how best to develop the National Skills Plan.

Also under the NSA, we will create 20 TAFE Centres of Excellence to grow strategically important industries, including a focus on digital skills.

These Centres of Excellence will bring together both tertiary sectors, employers and unions.

Jobs and Skills Councils, including Future Skills, will play an important role in supporting these Centres of Excellence, in priority areas like ensuring Australia’s digital and technological capability. 

And just as the National Skills Agreement will provide the impetus for VET reform, the Government’s response to the Accord Review is equally important. 

To help more Australians benefit from VET and participate in the workforce, we are investing up to $142 million over 5 years through the National Skills Agreement to improve foundation skills training, quality and access, including digital literacy skills.

Technology and digital skills courses are also a core part of the government’s commitment to Fee-Free TAFE. 

More than 350,000 Australians enrolled in Fee-Free TAFE last year, in priority areas of the economy, including technology and digital.

And we’re making available an additional 300,000 Fee-Free TAFE places from this year.

Technological change, including artificial intelligence, is already reshaping finance, tech and business occupations.

Your initial workforce plan found completion rates of finance, technology and business qualifications have declined significantly, particularly at lower levels of VET.

You’ve identified poorly articulated training pathways, students completing only the units they need from subsidised full courses and the ready availability of alternative short form training as contributing factors. 

And that more support is required to enhance VET practitioners’ industry relevance and currency. 

As you know, our government is working to ensure VET qualifications meet the expectations of employers and employees.

Reforming VET qualifications is critical to achieving the ambitions set out in the Employment White Paper and the National Skills Agreement – and is only now possible due to the enhanced industry leadership offered through Jobs and Skills Councils.

We need a qualifications system that better supports the different users of VET and their diverse needs, and a sector which consistently seeks to maximise the outcomes for learners and industry.

Just last week State and Territory Skills Ministers and I considered advice from the tripartite Qualification Reform Design Group. 

This Group has proposed a new approach to VET qualifications – one which better reflects the different purposes of training.

For some occupations, such as licensed or regulated professions, a level of technical detail within qualifications is critical to underpin industry confidence and graduate outcomes. 

This could include areas such as the financial services sector, or potentially technical specialisations within the technology sector. 

For others, we need to focus on supporting transferrable skills which can apply across occupations or industries. 

This can broaden the career pathways that VET offers for students and increase the supply of skills for industry.

An example of this are digital capabilities – which I touched on earlier. 

As you may be aware, following the Jobs and Skills Summit in September 2022, we established a Digital and Tech Skills Working Group to give practical effect to the Digital and Tech Skills Compact.

A compact by Government to work with industry and across the training education sector to develop solutions to our digital skills challenge and reach the goal of 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030.

The working group has delivered advice about “earn while you learn” models, to support workers entering the tech industry with a blend of work experience and training. 

The Government will be working with Future Skills to support high-quality “earn while you learn” models as part of efforts to meet Australia’s digital and tech skills workforce challenges. 

Pleasingly, recent growth in tech jobs has us on track to reach 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030. 
In May 2023 there were nearly 935,000 tech workers, compared to 865,000 in 2022. 

If we’re to achieve the uplift required, we need to explore new ways of designing qualifications to leverage the capability within Australia’s VET sector. 

Future Skills and other Jobs and Skills Councils will be instrumental in improving Australia’s system of VET qualifications and developing new approaches to building a skilled workforce for their sectors. 

We are also working to ensure that the VET sector attracts and retains the best teachers and educators. 

We’ve made it easier for people with secondary school teaching qualifications, industry experts and teachers-in-training to use their skills in vocational education and training.

And the VET Workforce Blueprint will identify effective strategies for:
growing and diversifying the workforce

  • attracting the best and brightest
  • examining effective retention strategies
  • mapping pathways to support career development and progression, and
  • effective succession planning.

We are well advanced in our efforts to reshape the VET workforce, while also working to solve chronic skills shortages.

The support and expertise provided by Future Skills will only sharpen our focus and strengthen our resolve. 

Thank you.